Saturday, July 16, 2016

Life Together Matters

The last few months have been deeply painful for anyone who believes that, as the name of this blog suggests, we are all just here to walk each other home.  Politicians preach racial, ethnic, and religious profiling, police are trained to see our streets as was zones, private citizens in the United States insist on their "right" to arm themselves with military-grade weaponry, the people of Great Britain separate themselves from the European Union in protest over too many layers of unresponsive government, and random acts of violence tear cities apart in the name of, what? ISIS?  Homophobia?  Generalized fear and anxiety?  We seem to live in dark and fearful times.

The challenge for people of faith and good will is to figure out how to respond.  There are many possible options, among them withdrawal, prayer, social action, political activism.  Each has its benefits, of course. Withdrawal at least protects the heart and soul from the daily assaults of violence and fear-mongering, and withholds from the provocateur the reward of a response, either of fear or of sympathy.  Withdrawal may limit the spread of evil in the short run, but it does not promote the good.  Prayer is a powerful tool in the hands and hearts of believers, especially prayer that promotes the conversion of perpetrators, and reconciliation with victims.  Even more powerful is the kind of prayer that effects deep transformation of the inward life of the pray-er, the one who prays.  Social and political action are necessary elements in the healing of the world, but without confronting our own potential for anger and conflict, our efforts will drain us, and ultimately come to not very much.

While I have chosen to ground my spiritual practice in contemplation, and live in a hermitage, I remain committed to the principle that companionship, compassion, and love are the only things that can heal the world.  To be a companion to black people, gay, lesbian, and differently-gendered people, Muslim people, to whoever has been cast aside, wounded, and rejected by others, this is the Great Commandment of Christ, and as far as I can see, the only practice that has the power to heal the world's wounds.

Black Lives Matter.  The lives of the poor, the sick, the suffering, the oppressed matter.  These are the ones we are called to walk with, to live with, to stand with. Only in companionship and compassion can we make a lasting difference.  Walk with me.  Let me walk with you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What Bliss, That We are Dust

Ash Wednesday -- such a dark and solemn day in so many churches.  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  No matter the care you take to be healthy, to be successful, to be beautiful, all will turn to dust and worms and ashes.  You will die, and you will be judged, perhaps by an angry and vengeful God, so you'd best use this season of Lent to beat yourself into submission before it's God's turn to beat you into submission.

I've noticed in the past few years that some clergy have taken to the streets with Ashes to Go for the folk who don't make it to church on Ash Wednesday.  The rationale is that people these days are too busy to get to church, but they'd like to "get their ashes" anyway.  I suspect, however, that however real their busyness may be, it's not the real reason why churches are increasingly empty on Ash Wednesday.  I suspect that the deeper reality is that the message that has traditionally come with those ashes is terrifying, and instinctively people avoid it.

There is a much larger story to Ash Wednesday, though, a deeper truth hidden in the dust and ashes we so fear.   Just as Jesus showed us in his own passion and death, in our death is our liberation.  In our willingness to abandon our egos and agendas and self-development programs lies the path to actual freedom.  In acknowledging our impermanence lies our very bliss.

Dame Julian of Norwich experienced her visions of God's limitless love and mercy towards his
cherished children in the context of a near-deathly illness.  St. Francis of Assisi carried the stigmata of Christ's crucifixion as bodily reminders of the inevitability of death itself, calling the end of life "Sister Death."  Ramana Maharshi felt himself near death at a young age, and laid himself down to fully experience his transition, at which point he recognized the presence of divine consciousness within himself.

Rather than the solemn and terrifying threat of damnation, Ash Wednesday may be received as God's invitation to burn away our obsessions and illusions until all that is left is Love Itself, the pure consciousness of God.  What bliss that we are but dust -- the dust of the earth, and the dust of the stars -- and that God's Love is what animates this collection of passing matter.  I will use this season of Lent to discover what God can burn away, and leave me with the Divine Alone.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Love Letters from the Past

Dear Ones,

In a fit of New Year’s clean-up-and-organizing fervor, I decided to collect up all of the baskets and piles and drawers of letters and cards and Christmas pictures that had nestled into various corners of the house.  My goal was to eliminate the envelopes with addresses I no longer needed, and consolidate the cards and letters into a single container.

I achieved that much, but what I couldn’t have imagined was how much more I gained in the process.  Little did I know, but there were old friends, former parishioners, semi-distant relatives, so many lovely souls who had been trying to keep in touch over the years.  For many reasons, I’m pretty sure I’m the one who dropped my end of the tenuous thread that held those relationships together.  

Why?  What a mix of difficult thoughts and emotions here – shame, sadness, confusion, mostly shame, actually.  I thought I’d left parish life under a cloud, one that I wasn’t strong enough to lift on my own.  I didn’t see that others either wanted to lift it for me, or never really believed it was there.  I just hid there, wishing it would go away.

And now?  I’m not sure about the cloud – it may have dissipated, or rolled away like fog on the shore, or just tucked itself into some obscure corner of my soul.  What I am aware of now is a feeling of gratitude, a desire to acknowledge all these dear people whose kindness went unacknowledged but not unappreciated over the years.  I’m not sure how to do that, except by a card or note of thanks, and I’ll probably take that up as a practice in the coming weeks.

If you are reading this, and think you may be someone who has not heard from me in a while, please know that the precious relics of your caring friendship are still here, and still cherished.  Thanks be to God for you.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Walking Luke Skywalker Home

Much has been made of the newest installment in the Star Wars movie franchise in which we renew our acquaintance with Luke, Han Solo, and Leia, now General, Organa.  For what it's worth, I think Episode VII is rollicking good fun, and I've enjoyed it both times I've seen it in the theater.

Here's what makes it worth writing about, though. According to some internet reports I've read, George Lucas is unhappy with the decision to go back and essentially re-tell the original "A New Hope" story.  He has said that it was his intention to keep creating new dramas, to introduce new characters, new planets, new situations to the galactic stage.  One can certainly understand that impulse -- for the sake of keeping the story fresh, or to attract new viewers, it might seem necessary or desirable to be endlessly creative.  But that was never the point of Star Wars, at least back in 1977, when I first saw it.  The joy of the first Star Wars film was its ability to tell a timeless story, the essential story, the story of the lost-and-found hero who discovers that he has the power to change -- indeed, to save -- the world.

The next two episodes in the series expanded on that theme, showing how the main characters confronted their truths, known and unknown, and created adult lives in the galaxy they were given to live with.  But the series lost its way, in my opinion, with the series of "prequels."  The story became convoluted, the characters (and in some cases the actors) were less compelling and believable.  Lucas had relinquished the focus on the hero tale, and instead was filling in backstory.  The narrative of the Fall of Anakin was, perhaps, a necessary component of the larger epic of redemption.  Sadly, it was crowded with political machinations and large armies of unidentifiable metal-and-plastic foot soldiers.

To their credit, J. J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and company have returned to the essential story, updating the special effects and including a black man and a female in leading roles.  They have brought their heroes "home" to their essential task of discovering their identities, connecting with a larger truth, and marshaling their energies for good.  Whatever anyone thinks the Force, or the Rebellion, or the First Order stand for in the present age, they are fundamentally about the conflict between good and evil, the craving for and abuse of power, and the spiritual awakening that begins the process of personal and societal growth.

George Lucas may have had some other story in mind that he wanted to tell, but Abrams, et al, have chosen the better path -- to return to The Story, and to bring the earlier hero, Luke, home to the ones who most love him and need him when the days turn dark.  I look forward to the next installments.